The Gallatin Association of Realtors reports that the median selling price of a single-family home in Gallatin County increased by $86,900 from July 2020 to August 2020. Median single-family home sales price was at $510,000, in July, but in August it jumped to $584,500. The biggest increase was in the greater Manhattan area where the median single-family home sales price increased by $115,450. It actually dropped slightly for Three Forks and Belgrade.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau Gallatin County has grown by 27.8% from April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2019.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced that the Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) is awarding a $2.5 million grant to the County of Stillwater, to make critical roadway infrastructure improvements needed to keep commerce flowing and support future business growth in the wake of flooding that impacted the county in 2019. The EDA grant, to be matched with $624,326 in local investment, is expected to create 200 jobs and spur $250 million in private investment.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 8 announced an award of $128,992 to the University of Montana to support fish advisory and consumption awareness related to fish harvested through invasive species reduction efforts in Flathead Lake and made available to food pantries. The grant is to monitor methylmercury in fish from Flathead Lake and impacts on users. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have made a concerted effort to suppress the invasive lake trout population.

Evel Knievel’s son, Kelly, is suing the Walt Disney Co. and Pixar over a movie daredevil character named Duke Caboom. He has filed a federal trademark infringement lawsuit in Las Vegas accusing the moviemaker of improperly basing the “Toy Story 4” character on Knievel, whose stunts in the 1960s and ’70s included motorcycle jumps over the Caesars Palace fountain in Las Vegas and a rocket shot into Snake River Canyon in Idaho.

A fishing access site on the Big Horn River has been renamed to honor the legacy of a Montana public lands advocate. Friends and family of the late Tony Schoonen gathered to dedicate the site. Schoonen was passionate about a project to create a full boat launch and parking area at the Mallon’s Access Site on the Big Hole River. It was previously called Notch Bottom Fishing Access. In the mid-1960s, Schoonen spearheaded efforts to prevent the building of a dam at Notch Bottom. Today, the 150-mile-long Big Hole remains among the few free-flowing wild trout rivers in the United States

Six former employees of a snowmobile guide company in West Yellowstone have settled an unfair labor practice complaint, marking what could be a major shift in the way seasonal employees in the small tourist town work.

The charitable arm of Gibson, the iconic American instrument brand has partnered with Gallatin High School in Bozeman to bring the power of music to returning students this fall. Gibson representatives and country music artist Stephanie Quayle presented the young guitar players with a donation of 24 hand-crafted, high-quality, acoustic guitars from Gibson’s to Gallatin High School’s music department and pledged their continued support to the students.

Montana State University is reporting its fifth-highest enrollment ever this semester despite the COVID-19 pandemic. There are now 16,249 students attending classes, fall semester, students have a choice of how they want to learn, between in-person, online, or hybrid classes.

National Flood Services works with FEMA and the nation’s largest insurance carriers (Farmers, Allstate, Assurant) to help protect more policyholders from flood than anyone else. Their founder first started NFS in Chicago in 1986. But, unable to stay away from Flathead Valley, he relocated the company to his native Montana in 1988, and it’s been NFS’s home ever since. They’re celebrating 35 years of business in October and have over 100 employees in the area.

UNAVCO, a global engineering and data firm, plans to move its headquarters to Missoula, where it can establish agreements with the Montana University System and capitalize off the city’s skilled workforce. The Missoula Economic Partnership received approval from Missoula County to submit a job creation grant on behalf of UNAVCO Inc., which is looking to create 27 local jobs.

The North Dakota Aeronautics Commission reported that the state’s eight commercial service airports show increasing numbers for passenger boardings, moving away from the record low numbers in recent months. The commission reported a total of 43,559 passenger boardings for the month of August, which is higher than the statewide volume that has been seen in the last four months, and amounts to a 43 percent retention rate of the passengers that North Dakota experienced during the same month last year. North Dakota’s airline passenger demand has also been recovering faster than the national average which is currently estimated to be at 29% of pre-pandemic levels.

Besides being a noted hotelier in Billings, Mike Nelson is a tireless advocate for business in the Billings community, which is why he has been name as this year’s Small Business Champion.  Nelson is always showing up to educate, inspire and support those around him, according to Steve Arveschoug, Executive Director at Big Sky Economic Development Authority, who nominated Nelson.

He is a hands-on business leader and serves on the board of Big Sky Economic Development and was recently appointed Chair of the Billings Chamber of Commerce Board in 2020. 

Nelson is actively involved with MSU-Billings College of Business and with entrepreneur students at Billings School District 2.  He provided a unique opportunity for culinary students from the Billings Career Center to take over the kitchen of the TEN Restaurant, located in the Northern Hotel, for one day.  Students designed the menu, ordered the food, prepared meals, and presented their creations to the community and civic leaders they had invited. The evening was an overwhelming success, showcasing the talents of area high school students and supporting young entrepreneurs in their beginning stages.

Mike has been an instrumental part of the community effort to address public safety challenges.  He has twice hosted community panel discussions to talk about how to make Billings a safer place to do business.  These discussions spurred an actionable plan by the Downtown Billings Alliance and the Billings Chamber of Commerce to provide small business owners with matching funds to assess and provide recommended infrastructure improvements to their businesses.

Mike successfully breathed life back into the historic Northern Hotel when he and his brother purchased the run-down, vacant building in 2009.  He spent the next five years restoring this important piece of Montana history located in downtown Billings. The re-opening of the Northern hotel has created a new hub for business travelers, tourists and visitors and has revitalized the downtown area. The economic impact of this project is estimated at roughly $82 million.

Mike Nelson is a catalyst for growing the Billings small business community and knows that it takes hard work and dedication to make it happen. He stands out from other leaders as a true champion as he is more than just a voice, he is a partner on the ground.

Keelan and Brianna James of Belgrade as owners of Easy Lawn Hydroseeding, LLC have been named as Montana Small Business Person of the Year by the Small Business Administration.

Both Keelan and Brianna grew up in Montana and met while attending Montana State University in Bozeman.  Keelan was pursuing a degree in Civil Engineering while Brianna earned her degree in Education.  After they got married, the couple decided to stay in Southwest Montana and raise their family in Belgrade. 

Keelan has always been a self-driven individual, and after college, he set out on a path of entrepreneurship.  His passion for the outdoors inspired the idea of starting an environmental restoration business in 2008. 

Easy Lawn Hydroseeding provides seeding, erosion control and land reclamation services for commercial and residential customers.  The company focuses on land restoration after major construction projects, environmental clean-up, river and stream restoration, wetland mitigation, and private land improvements and management. 

When the business first started, Keelan and Brianna were the only two employees but over the past twelve years the business has expanded to a staff of twelve.  By 2016, the company had outgrown their original location. SBA financing made it possible for the business owners to purchase property and build a new, larger facility to house their business operations.

The new location allowed the business to expand their service area to other states including Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota.  Future plans include expanding their service area into Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

Keelan and Brianna James are strong supporters of their community. They started a mentoring program to help struggling families that have experienced a financial crisis.  The program focuses on education of sound financial practices and helps with real life implementation of those lessons and even grant funds to help families get back on their feet. They focus their efforts to help homeless teens in their community. 

As a high school teacher, Brianna has seen the rise in homelessness in young teens who are displaced from their parents. The program will provide life skills and solutions with the goal of teaching kids self-reliance and how to succeed on their own.

Keelan and Brianna James were nominated by Randy Tyler, Assistant Vice President at The Yellowstone Bank, Bozeman.

Levi Clark of Geraldine has been named as SBA’s 2020 Montana Young Entrepreneur-owned Business of the Year.

Clark grew up in rural Geraldine, attended Montana Tech and graduated with an Associate’s of Science degree in Metal Fabrication in 2008.  After spending five years in the coal mining industry refining his welding and fabrication skills, Levi returned home to Geraldine.  With the support of his wife Ashley, Levi pursued an innovative idea to serve farmers and ranchers in rural Montana and give back to his hometown community.

Hybrid Steel Design initially operated as a mobile welding unit. Levi is a certified welder and able to streamline on-site equipment repair saving farmers countless hours in downtime and money.

As word of Levi’s skills spread throughout the Golden Triangle area, new opportunities presented for the company, including mill wright services such as onsite consultation, design, installation and assembly. Over time, the projects grew from agri-production equipment earning hundreds of dollars of revenue to full agri-processing facilities in the tens of thousands of dollars and beyond.

Currently, the company’s primary focus is construction of agricultural processing facilities.  Over the last 18 months, they have built three major value-added agriculture facilities in Montana’s Golden Triangle.  Pardue Grain is a pulse processing facility in Glacier County.  Hodgkiss Seed Plant is another processing facility located near Choteau. They are working on another major processing facility in the Golden Triangle, but for confidentiality reasons, are not able to divulge the details of that project.  Levi and Ashley utilized the Great Falls SBDC starting in 2018 for guidance and assistance in growing their budding company. They are active PTAC clients and have participated in state and local matchmaking events with government agencies enabling them to diversity revenue and continue to grow the company.

The company has experienced stellar growth in the last three years, with 2019 the best year yet.  Growth is due to diversification, going from a welding and fabrication company to providing on-site mill wright services including building huge agricultural plants.

Levi Clark’s commitment to his customers and his integrity and work ethic are extraordinary and continue to drive the success of this business.  

Hybrid Steel Design was nominated by Jason Nitschke, Great Falls SBDC Regional Director and Teresa Schreiner, Investment Director at Great Falls Development Authority.

FEMA announced $5.71 million in additional funding for COVID-19 response efforts in Montana. The assistance was made available under the major disaster declaration issued March 31 by President Trump.

The funding is being provided to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services for purchases of Personal Protective Equipment for medical care providers and other supplies, which were distributed statewide through June 13, 2020.

FEMA’s Public Assistance Program provides funding for emergency actions undertaken by communities to protect public safety, providing at least a 75 percent funding share for eligible costs. Remaining costs are the responsibility of the state and local applicants for assistance.

To date, FEMA has provided more than $5.82 million in Public Assistance funding for the COVID-19 response in Montana. These reimbursements can play a critical role as state, local and tribal officials work tirelessly to assist their communities during this response. Additional support has come in the form of mission assignments, where FEMA directs another federal agency to perform work to address needs identified by the state.

Abby Coffee recently joined Stockman Wealth Management as a Junior Portfolio Manager in Billings. Her responsibilities include financial planning, investment account management, economic analysis and business development.

Coffee earned her Bachelor of Science degree in business finance with a minor in accounting from Montana State University in Bozeman in the fall of 2019. She is currently preparing for the Series 65 exam requirement and will be working towards the designation of Certified Financial Planner certification as well.

Coffee was an active member of the Alpha Omicron Pi Sorority, as well as several other organizations/programs while attending MSU Bozeman. She has volunteered and helped with fundraising efforts for Eagle Mount, NAMI, Arthritis Foundation and Huntsman Cancer Institute.   

She is located at 2700 King Avenue West.

Montana’s Woman-owned Business of the year is Kathleen “Nikki” Edmundson of Harrison, Montana, as named by the US Small Business Administration.

Edmundson began her business, Canty Boots in Butte, eight years ago. Edmundson was born and raised in Butte and graduated from the University of Montana-Western in Dillion with a degree in elementary education.  She and her husband moved to the small town of Harrison so he could continue the family ranching business with his father.

Canty Boots began eight years ago in the Mining City of Butte when Nikki Edmundson bought a pair of eel skin boots in an antique store that were tight fitting and not very comfortable. To make the boots work, Nikki cut and folded the boot top and worked some magic so they felt good on her feet. While running errands in town that same day, men and women alike complimented her unique boots. Clearly, Nikki had something special and she wanted to share her designs with others.

Canty Boots is a unique boutique that celebrates individuality in every pair of boots they design.  Nikki loves to create beautiful things, handmade with love, and brings new life to vintage cowgirl boots. The boutique also carries hats, scarves, jewelry and bags. The leather boots range from classic to extravagant and every pair is unique.  Everything is designed, cut, sewn, packed and shipped from her store in Harrison. She is committed to providing high quality products with personalized service to her customers.  

Nikki Edmundson reached out to the Butte SBDC in fall 2019 for help with marketing and input on how to increase visibility for her thriving boutique. The SBDC helped Nikki identity opportunities for grant funding and loan funding to help her grow her business. 

In June of 2019, Canty Boots opened a brand-new flagship store in rural Harrison, Montana, a town with a population of 160 people. Canty Boots brings full and part-time jobs to this small town, pays competitive wages and has made a huge difference in this very rural community. The company currently employs three boot designers and a designated cobbler and plans to hire another employee in the spring.

As Canty Boots has gained recognition, sales have reached international markets.  Nikki is passionate about her small business and her dedication, hard work, and vision drive her extraordinary success. 

Canty Boots was nominated by Julie Jaksha, SBDC Regional Director, Headwaters RC&D, Butte.

By Evelyn Pyburn

While most businesses have been able to reopen following their forced closure because of concerns about COVID-19, the struggle and uncertainty about their future fate isn’t over for many business owners. Economic commentators say it will probably take two years before the full impact on businesses will be known.

It’s true that many businesses dealing in products and services that have come into high demand are doing very well – but even they struggle with meeting those demands while still maintaining health and safety protocols. Not being able to fully reopen because of those protocols has kept some businesses teetering on the edge and for others new impacts of COVID are placing even more stress on their business.

The new worry is about an employee testing positive for COVID and having the health department put everyone under quarantine, effectively re -closing the business. Besides lost business, the employer is required to continue paying the employees even though there is no income. So while the employees are made whole, there exists the possibility that the economic damage done will leave them with no job if their employer goes out of business.

Some state and federal programs have helped in sustaining businesses and provide funds to help in paying employees, but the disruption still takes a toll and in some cases there is a stigma attached to the virus that dissuades the return of customers or clients. Because of that, many businesses are reluctant to even talk about their dilemma.

Everyone was well aware from the very beginning of the impact on restaurants and bars. A general count seems to indicate that about a dozen restaurants have closed in the Billings area. Others are hanging on but it is difficult for those with limited space. Being able to operate at 50 or 75 percent capacity, which is one of the restrictions under which they must operate, just isn’t enough to cover basic operating costs for some and so they remain closed.

While the cancellation of events like concerts, fairs, trade shows and arts/crafts shows may at first blush seem just a disappointment for spectators they also reflect lost business for many whose livelihoods are  event- oriented, which include not only the hospitality industry but also those who provide the infrastructure for such gatherings and those who sell their art and products through those venues.

At the same time, almost any kind of business that has anything to do with construction or selling equipment and materials for that industry, have exploded and can hardly keep up.

Each business has their own story to tell.

Q Art & Framing

By the time the Governor closed businesses in the state, it didn’t make much difference to John Armstrong.  “My business was slowing way down just because people were getting apprehensive,” he said. Armstrong owns Q’s Art and Framing at 1511 6th Avenue N. in Billings, a business that sells fine art and art supplies and does framing. It also features weekly art classes.

“Business was so dead I didn’t think it was worth it to stay open.” Besides closing the doors for a couple months, Armstrong cancelled all art classes.

“It was scary,” he said.

Armstrong owns the building in which his business is located and he has tenants with businesses. “We were all in the same boat,” he said. One of his tenants had to quit, leaving him with a vacancy. “So I kinda got hit with both barrels.”

He has reopened, but business is slow in re-building – the sale of art is “zero”, and “We just don’t have the foot traffic.” Armstrong says he is hopeful and, “I think we are going to make it through.” That wouldn’t be the case though if it were not for the state and federal funding programs … and a $250 credit from Northwestern Energy.

The framing part of business has been doing well, and art classes have resumed, but remain constrained because of spacing issues.

“I feel very blessed to be on as solid ground as I am,” said Armstrong, expressing gratitude. ”I feel that the community is supporting me. A lot of the business that came in August was people wanting to support me.”

Black Dagger Tattoo

Gyms, salons, barbers and tattoo parlors were especially hard hit.

Sean Sapone, a co-owner of Black Dagger Tattoo in downtown Billings, 2914 1st Avenue N., is still only partially open. He is accepting only one appointment a day, whereas a normal schedule would be two or three appointments a day, and walk-in traffic is curtailed completely. So business has dropped from 10 – 15 clients a week to only five, at the most.

Being self-employed, Sapone has relied on his savings to make it through a two –month business-closure. Sapone said that because of having a family member who is highly vulnerable, he imposed greater restraints on himself, and continues to do so. He noted that given how close people must be in his business, the safety and cleanliness protocols are of great importance and they have strictly adhered to them which makes their work difficult.

Black Dagger Tattoo was started in 2016, and was doing very well and growing, according to Sapone. So, the COVID crisis was a devastating blow to a new and vital small business. Functioning very much like hair salons do with subcontractors leasing space and cultivating their own clients, Sapone said that those individuals, being self-employed are having to fare on their own, perhaps getting some benefits from the government programs. They may be in an even more perilous position, he noted, since some were likely just building their clientele and were more dependent on the public exposure of an open shop.

About the future, Sapone said that he is “not necessarily optimistic.” “I am worried about it,” he said. He doesn’t see a lot of options, but “I think we will survive it.”

R &R Salon

It was the first time since she was 15 –years- old that Rachel Markowski had a whole month off. Markowski owns R & R Salon, a hair and beauty salon at 1001 S. 24th Street, which includes a small retail outlet for jewelry, some clothing and gift items. Having to close the business was an immediate end to her income, as well as for the beauticians who sub-contracted with the business.

Worry about what the future held was probably the worst of the situation for Markowski, who at least had the financial backup of her husband’s job, which was categorized as “essential.” They own a small acreage just outside of town and Markowski said, “I was glad to have the farm to tend to, to keep me busy and keep me from worrying.” Markowski said that she used the time to do things that she hadn’t been able to do when working full time and enjoyed being able to do things like gardening and food preservation.

She also used the time to develop a website for the retail sales part of her business.

The landlord of her business location reduced rent by half for the month of May, which was very helpful, said Markowski, who otherwise relied on savings she had for such emergencies. She did not apply for any of the government programs. “I just toughed it out,” she said.

While they cut back on spending, when the Markowskis did spend money – like so many others they tried as much as possible to support local small businesses.

Most of her clientele has come back in force. Their pent-up demand has kept Markowski and the others in her shop very busy, working overtime because of the need to space out appointments to keep the number of people in the shop at a minimum. “I’m just tired of having to wear a mask,” she lamented.

Lackman Cattle

Being able to get assistance from the first round of federal funding under the CARES Act was vital for sustaining his business of farming and feeding cattle west of Billings, Luke Lackman told members of the Chamber of Commerce’s Ag Tour on Friday.  Lackman’s family business was staggered by the unexpected cancellation of a contract for barley by a brewing company, just days after having invested the cost of planting it.

He wasn’t the only farmer in Montana who was broadsided by such contract withdrawals, which without the government rescue funding would probably have bankrupted many of them. Brewing companies were concerned that because of the COVID crisis beer consumption would be far less than projected – although one member of  the tour group told Lackman that he and his friends were trying to do as they could to support that aspect of the economy.

Western Romance

Without doubt the hardest hit industry sector was tourism, which included motels, restaurants and bars, but also included businesses like Western Romance Company in Huntley, which since 1999 has contracted with bus tour companies to provide an evening of entertainment, cowboy poetry, and singing and yodeling around the campfire, accompanied by an old-fashioned cookout.

Owners, Dennis (also known as Pappy) and Norma McNiven, were stunned this past summer to lose essentially all of this year’s business. Normally, they are booked from May through October with about 56 events with 30 to 54 people in each group. This year started out with 56 bookings scheduled, of which all but one cancelled. Not only did the McNivens lose a significant source of income so did two subcontractors and some eleven part-time employees, as did the local motels, and many other aspects of the hospitality business in Billings.

“First we were notified by Trafalgar Tours and Discovery Parks Tour in March that they were cancelling everything globally because of COVID until June 30, and then they notified us they were cancelling everything until September 2,” explained Norma. Then in the latter part of July they cancelled everything else through October 28. It totally wiped out the whole season,” she lamented.

Only one scaled-down booking in August moved forward, for which the McNivens hosted eleven guests rather than their minimum group size of 30. That event was able to be held because the booking company used their own buses; the other events were booked through companies that leased their buses from transportation companies that had to cease operations through the whole summer since they couldn’t meet the requirements for social distancing.

Whether Western Romance Company will continue business come next summer is uncertain. The McNivens are not particularly optimistic. “We just don’t know what will happen,” said Norma.

While they have applied for some assistance, what they have received has been minimal, and while they qualify for more, they have been told they are on a waiting list of some 7 million businesses and “we will contact you.”

Asked how they have survived, Norma said that they were prepared for adversity. “I never counted on Western Romance to do stuff. We have a commercial loan at the bank, which we renewed, and we hope we can make it through.”

Bill Tierney, an RBC Wealth Management financial advisor in the Billings office, is retiring on 9/30/2020 after 45 years with the firm. Bill started his career with RBC on February 24, 1975. After completing his training at the Company Headquarters in Minneapolis, Bill returned to Billings. During his tenure with RBC, Bill was actively involved with the company serving on various internal committees and boards. He earned several professional designations and managed the Billings Branch office for 13 years. Throughout his career, however, his primary focus was always on helping his clients. Bill was also active in the community both personally and as a representative of RBC, serving on several non-profit boards. He was especially proud of his relationship with the colleges and universities in fostering Internships for students pursuing careers in business. Bill and Debbie are looking forward to spending more time with their friends and family and embarking on new adventures.

Benefits Include Low Down payment, Fixed Rate, Long-term Repayment

If your small to moderate-size business is leasing any commercial property such as office space, manufacturing or warehousing, you are probably making someone else richer with every rent check you write.  Every lease payment brings your landlord a little closer to retirement.  Why not build your own nest egg instead?  The opportunity to own business real estate has never been greater than right now.  For a minimum of 10 percent down, your business can be eligible for fixed rate financing toward the purchase of commercial real estate; and right now, these rates are at historic all-time lows.  For many small businesses, a monthly mortgage payment can be equal to or less than a rent payment.  SBA’s 504 Program can help you get there.

One of the biggest impediments to growing a small business is the lack of equity when buying a building and/or equipment.  Accelerating equity growth is the primary financial goal of most small businesses.  It is a fact that operating costs such as property lease payments often slow this growth.  Under the SBA 504 loan program, small business owners can purchase, construct or renovate commercial real estate and/or purchase capital equipment and machinery for use by their businesses with the benefit of a small down payment.  The program is primarily used for real estate acquisition, but may be used for large equipment as well, and does include some refinance options too.

Often the financing is a “50/40/10” split.  The “eligible project” includes the costs to acquire, improve or construct the asset plus most related “soft” costs.  A commercial bank loans 50% of the eligible project as a conventional loan in first lien position.  A Certified Development Company (CDC – certified by SBA to implement the 504 program) lends up to 40% of the project costs with an SBA loan in second lien position.  The final 10% is provided by the business owner.  In businesses that are a start-up operation or a special use property, the injection percentage may be up to 20%.

Most Montana businesses will qualify; for profit businesses with a net worth less than $7.5 million, and a net income after taxes of no more than $2.5 million for the last two years (while meeting the general eligibility rules under all SBA loan programs) may participate.

504 loans are generally capped at $5 million and can have a term of 10, 20 or 25 years.  The rate is typically below market and is always fixed for the full amortized life of the loan on the SBA portion.  Prepayment penalties apply during the first 10 years of the loan.  Borrowers benefit from this program because of the small upfront investment of 10 percent and the longer amortization of 25 years.  This keeps operating costs predictable and more management.  One of the program’s goals is to create economic incentives that stimulate development and growth of the economic base in Montana.  The borrower is expected to generate at least one job for every $65,000 funded.

What are the steps to obtaining a SBA 504 loan? First borrowers should contact a commercial loan officer at their current lender.  Most Montana lenders participate in the 504 loan program.  The loan officer will contact one of the four Certified Development Companies serving Montana.  Together, the bank and the CDC will assist the borrower in applying for the program, reviewing the application, and securing the appropriate commitments from the SBA and the bank.  The CDC’s goal is to make the application and commitment process as easy as possible and to insure both the lender and borrower receive a timely commitment on the 504 project.

Small businesses that have participated in the 504 program have seen property values appreciate.  With forecasts of continued market growth and expansion, the 504 program can help new borrowers achieve similar growth in the equity of their business investments.  For more information on SBA’s Programs and Services, go to or call 406.441.1081.

Montana CDCs and Contact Numbers:

Big Sky Finance         406.869.8403     406.443.3261

High Plains Financial         406.771.9027

Dakota Business Lending 406.760.1002

Capital Matrix                208.383.3473